Browsing News Entries

US State Department: Pakistan's religious freedom record a 'particular concern'

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Religious freedom problems in Pakistan have led the US Department of State to designate the country as of “particular concern,” with nine others, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Tuesday.

“I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue,” Pompeo said Dec. 11.

In addition to Pakistan, Pompeo listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. This means he believes they have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom.” The designation took place Nov. 28, Pompeo said.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes recommendations to the State Department about the list. Its April 2018 report examined religious freedom threats in Pakistan and around the world.

In December 2017, Islamic State group-affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, killing nine people. The run-up to the national elections in July 2018 exacerbated religious tensions in the country. According to the USCIRF report, approximately 40 people sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

“Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity,” he continued. “These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies.”

CNA contacted USCIRF for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

In April, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark told CNA he was particularly concerned about Pakistan.

“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on,” Mark said. “But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan... we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need.”

“Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” said Mark.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer, was among those facing blasphemy prosecution, spending eight years in prison despite her protestations of innocence. The Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy charges in late October. The acquittal prompted protests and death threats. Her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.

Bibi’s family has sought asylum for her in the U.S., the U.K., or other countries in Europe. Italy has offered to help her find asylum.

Mark said conditions in Pakistan are bad at the legal level, such as the second-class citizenship treatment of the Ahmadi religious minority. There is also a growing “culture of impunity” in society, with vigilante mobs attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.

Pompeo placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on the special watch list for having engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” In January the State Department had named Uzbekistan a country of particular concern.

The special watch list is a new designation, created by Congress’ 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act. Pakistan was first named to the watch list in December 2017.

Another list, entities of particular concern, includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, the Islamic State Group, the Islamic State Group in Khorasan, and the Taliban.

Pompeo noted his work as Secretary of State in hosting the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, which brought together 85 governments and 400 NGOs that aimed to advance religious freedom.

“The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” Pompeo said.

Amid priest murders, religious freedom situation in Mexico draws concern

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 12, 2018 / 05:40 pm (ACI Prensa).- With 26 priests murdered in the last six years, Mexico received a prominent mention in the 2018 Report on Religious Freedom in the World, recently published by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Julieta Appendini, ACN's director in Mexico, explained that although the country is not experiencing “a persecution such as in the Middle East,” where religious minorities are being killed, they are instead seeing “new forms of persecution.”

The majority of the murders of priests are due to their “getting in the way” of organized crime and drug trafficking, since the priests “provide stability to society,” Appendini told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency.

She added that confrontations between Catholics and Protestants in southern Mexico are also recorded in the ACN report, as well as cases of looting churches and extortion.

The ACN director in Mexico explained that the religious freedom report analyzes the right to religious liberty in 106 countries.

“Every two years, we see how each country is doing based on this right which is founded on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” she said.

Appendini said the situation in 2018 “has gotten worse,” since “in 38 countries out of 196 there is serious, heavy persecution and discrimination,” which is primarily concentrated in the Middle East and Africa.

In addition to China and Russia, India is also a critical case, where the government promotes Hinduism and encourages discrimination and repression of religious minorities such as Christians.

“Out of the world's population, 61 percent, we're talking 2.5 billion people, live in a country where there is religious persecution or discrimination.”

Faced with this situation, she said, ACN is seeking to inform and raise awareness, encourage prayer, and be bridges of charity.

“The foundation has helped financially, through all the donations of our benefactors throughout the world, especially for the persecuted Christians,” she said.

Appendini said that ACN has provided “emergency aid on all levels. Not just with spiritual support, but with food, building their churches, schools, and with emergency aid so they can survive.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Priest who survived major plane crash credits Our Lady of Guadalupe

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This year, for Father Esequiel Sanchez, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings up terrifying memories - and a huge reason to be thankful.

Sanchez was one of 103 passengers aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed and burned in a field shortly after takeoff on July 31 of this year.

While there were some injuries, no one died.

“I personally attributed that to the intercession of Our Lady, and so did the other passengers, I think most of us...saw it as miraculous,” Sanchez told CNA.

Shortly after takeoff in Durango, the plane caught strong winds, causing the left wing to hit the ground and the plane to lose both of its engines.

As the craft was hurtling toward the ground, Sanchez said he thought he would either die, be paralyzed, or be burned by subsequent explosions. All he walked away with was a broken arm.

But his fear in the moment didn’t stop his priestly training from kicking in - he immediately started to pray out loud.

“They say police officers and firefighters and soldiers will tell you that when you get into a crisis situation, your training kicks in. I think that’s happened to me too,” he said.

“I prayed ‘God come to our assistance, Blessed Mother come to help us,’ and then I began to absolve everybody on the plane. I immediately said: ‘I absolve everyone on this plane, may the Lord have mercy,’” he recalled.

“I thought it was just going to be it, because it was happening so fast. You don’t (crash) a 100-ton airplane at 150 miles per hour and think you’re gonna be ok. But happily we were.”

When the plane crash-landed, emergency crews helped evacuate everyone before the plane exploded into flames.

Sanchez’ first thought was for the victims.

“I just couldn’t imagine finding someone’s mother who died and I survived. So for me to I wanted to tell them that I tried to get to them, so my primary concern was getting to the victims as best I could, and start ministering to them. When that’s what you’re concerned about, that’s what you’re going to go after.”

Some survivors had worse injuries - a little girl with burn injuries was taken to a hospital, others had neck and back injuries.

The plane “completely disintegrated,” Sanchez said, so the lack of deaths or worse injuries is miraculous.

Besides being a plane crash survivor, Sanchez is also the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

The shrine is the site of a massive celebration for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year on Dec. 12. The event attracts more than 200,000 pilgrims annually, many whom walk for hours or even days on foot to get there.  

For Sanchez, and for some other Durango plane crash survivors who have made the trek to the shrine this year, the Feast Day has taken on new significance.

“So for me, on Our Lady of Guadalupe today, and all those memories...I’m a pilgrim just like them, I come to give her thanks,” he said.

“Some of the survivors came and did the same thing, they came to give thanks to Our Lady.”

Besides being grateful for his survival and lack of serious injury, Sanchez said one of the greatest blessings since the event has been the “outpouring of everyone from the city of Chicago and beyond.”

“Everyone found out about the story and they prayed for us, there’s no place I can go without  people saying we prayed for you,” he said.

“So when you get that kind of generosity, my only response other than to say thank you is: I am so looking forward to becoming a better priest and a better minister, and I do things with a lot more joy,” he said.

Sanchez said he loves his ministry as the rector at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that every year it brings him hope to see the numerous pilgrims on Dec. 12, many of whom come with their whole families.

“I find no more effective image or evangelizing tool than Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message,” he said.

And whether you’re a pilgrim hurtling through the air in a near-death experience plane crash, or an undocumented immigrant trekking to the Shrine to beg her help: “She’s a source of hope.”

 

Church of England to create 'celebratory' transgender liturgies

London, England, Dec 12, 2018 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- The Church of England has published pastoral guidelines for liturgical services that would celebrate the completion of “gender transitioning” by those Anglicans who identify as transgendered.

The guidelines, titled Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition, were approved by the Church of England’s House of Bishops Dec. 10, and published Tuesday.

The guidance applies only to the Church of England, and not to other branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
 
The guidelines state that baptism is the “natural liturgical context for recognizing and celebrating [a transgendered person’s] identity in Christ and God’s love for them” and encourages ministers to accept and use “the preference of a transgender person in respect of their name and gendered (or other) pronouns” in the baptism of transgendered persons.
 
Baptized members of the Church of England are to be offered specially adapted rituals “to recognize liturgically a person’s gender transition,” the guidelines say.

Such liturgies would allow an individual to affirm a new gender preference while renewing baptismal promises.
 
The guidelines note that the Church of England “welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmations of trans people” and state that services to recognize their new identity should have a “celebratory character.”

The document offers guidance on the appropriate use of pronouns during the service, explaining that ministers “should be guided by the wishes of the candidate” with respect to acknowledging the actual sex of the person at birth.
 
The guidelines follow a 284-78 vote last year in the Church of England’s General Synod, calling for consideration of special liturgies which “might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.” The newly published adaptation of existing liturgies for baptism and baptismal affirmation is thought to be a compromise agreed among Church of England bishops divided over the creation of new liturgies particular to “gender transition.”

But Fr. James Bradley, a former Church of England deacon and now a Catholic priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, told CNA that the move represents a dramatic shift in Church of England teaching.

“It appears to represent not simply a further change in Anglican practice, but a fundamental shift in the Church of England’s understanding of the human person and the sacrament of baptism,” Bradley said.

The Church of England’s Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, led the House of Bishops’ committee that developed the guidelines. “We are absolutely clear that everyone is made in the image of God and that all should find a welcome in their parish church,” Henderson said in a Dec. 11 Church of England press release.

Henderson called the new liturgical options “an opportunity, rooted in scripture, to enable trans people who have ‘come to Christ as the way, the truth and the life’, to mark their transition in the presence of their Church family which is the body of Christ.”

The decision has caused some controversy within the Church of England.

Andrea Williams, who is a member of the Church of England's General Synod told reporters that the  move is a "devastating trajectory towards an outright denial of God and his word" and a “misguided attempt to be loving” which “sacrifices truth.”

The Church of England is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and its head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, serves as “first among equals.” The Anglican Communion has been strained in recent years by division over moral and sexual issues.

The American Episcopal Church has approved same-sex marriage since 2015, while the Church of England called for a discussion for liturgies and blessings to recognize same-sex unions last year. Some member-churches, especially those in Africa, have resisted these moves, holding to more traditional Christian teachings.

A spokesman for the Church of England told CNA that the new guidelines were “just a consultation on guidance for use of liturgy in Church of England services” and so “not something with a wider Anglican Communion involvement.”

The announcement from the Church of England could make future ecumenical efforts between it and the Catholic Church more difficult.
 
Pope Francis has been outspoken in his denunciation of so-called gender theory and the Western trend to treat basic aspects of human identity as fluid or mutable. The pope has said that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.”
 
Addressing transgenderism in his 2016 Apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis said that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created.”
 
Pope Francis has also spoken out against so-called reassignment surgeries and techniques. In a 2017 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Life he said that such "biomedical technology" "risks dismantling the source of energy that fuels the alliance between men and women and renders them fertile."
 
Dr. Chad Pecknold, Associate Professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America and a Fellow at the Institute of Human Ecology, told CNA that the decision by the Church of England has caused a moment of sadness for some Christians concerned with ecumenical unity.
 
“As a Catholic who cares about ecumenical friendships with our separated brethren, I can only see this decision as deeply tragic for the cause of Christian unity, and a profound betrayal of a common Christian witness,” Pecknold said.
 
Pecknold told CNA that recognizing and celebrating so-called gender transitions went against basic Christian teachings on human nature and sacramental grace.
 
“The Church teaches that the human person bears God’s image, as soul and body, a union of the material and spiritual, made for friendship with one another and God,” Pecknold said.
 
“It is true that the Fall destroyed our original harmony with God, weakened our will, and disordered our desires, but the Church also teaches that the goodness of our created nature remains intact even in our fallen state.”
 
The Catholic Church has learned these essential human truths by reason as well as by revelation, Pecknold told CNA, but also through the struggle to overcome ancient heresies.
 
“From the earliest times, Catholic Christians have rejected Gnostic, Manichean, and Albigensian attempts to pit the body and soul against one another. Today we see that transgendered activists have revived gnostic dualism, pitting biological sex against gender identity.”
 
While many communities have struggled to find a balance between welcoming people suffering from gender dysphoria or other crises of personal identity while still affirming common truths and values, Pecknold told CNA that the adaptation of liturgy, especially the liturgy of baptism, to celebrate a change of gender was especially problematic.
 
“In baptism, which is the first sacrament, God sanctifies His beloved creature which He made ‘very good.’ Only God has the power to change and heal our nature as such, and only God can give us a new name,” Pecknold said.
 
“The Church is not in the business of blessing identities, but of healing nature.”

Nashville's sole remaining abortion clinic suspends abortion provision

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Tennessee has seen an increase in pro-life legislation in recent years, the only abortion clinic in Nashville temporarily ceased its abortion services last week.

According to the Associated Press, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Tereva Parham, confirmed Dec. 10 that abortion provision had been suspended the week prior.

The time-frame of the suspension has not been provided.

Parham said the clinic is “undergoing a period of quality improvement” and added that part of the reason for the suspension is a lack of abortion providers.

The Planned Parenthood clinic is still offering other services, but has been referring patients who request abortion to clinics in Knoxville and Memphis, both of which are about 200 miles away.

Nashville previously had two abortion providers, but The Women's Center closed in August when its building was sold. The organization said it would be looking for a new location, but it has not yet reopened.

Tennessee has enacted a number of abortion regulations in recent years.

In 2014, voters approved an amendment which categorically excludes abortion rights from the state’s constitution.

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives or state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother,” the amendment reads.

Legislators passed a 48-hour waiting period and in-person informed consent counseling for women seeking to procure abortion in 2015, which are currently being challenged in federal court.

In 2017, the state banned abortion of viable unborn children after 20 weeks.

The state also requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors, and parental consent for teen abortions.

And in May, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law calling for the erection of a privately funded monument to unborn children on the grounds of the state capitol.

Haslam also signed a law seeking federal approval to prohibit the state's Medicaid program from payments for non-abortion services to any provider of more than 50 abortions in a year.

About 9,700 abortions were procured in Tennessee in 2016.

In New York, public school officials to evaluate private schools

Albany, N.Y., Dec 12, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leaders of New York state’s more than 500 Catholic schools are planning to boycott a new state review system, whereby public school officials would evaluate religious schools to determine whether they offer a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools.

“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” James Cultrara, executive secretary of the New York Council of Catholic School Superintendents, was quoted as saying in Times Union.

“We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”

The rebuke to the state comes after New York’s education commissioner released guidelines Nov. 20 “to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law,” i.e. exposure to the same basic courses such as English, civics, and mathematics that public school students take.

The state’s action follows a New York City investigation into some Orthodox Jewish schools that a group of graduates say have been deficient in terms of teaching students “secular” topics other than the Jewish religion.

Under the new guidelines, local public school superintendents or their designees would be required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of the 2020-2021, and every five years after that, to evaluate the schools. The local school board would approve the findings with a vote.

The Catholic superintendents body said in a letter to the State Education Department that they do not oppose school inspections from state officials, but conflicts of interest could arise if public school officials, who are essentially “competing” for the same body of students, are given the power to evaluate private schools.

“A review by local public school officials and a vote at a public meeting of a locally elected public school board, as is called for in the guidance, practically guarantees inconsistency and subjectivity,” reads part of the letter, which was obtained by Times Union.

“The Council of Catholic School Superintendents is committed to maintaining high-quality Catholic schools and working with you on designing an objective review and determination process to support the education of children in our schools.”

The superintendents have rejected the state’s guidelines and directed all of the state’s Catholic schools not to participate in “any review carried out by local public school officials.”

As of Dec. 12 the State Education Department has not commented on the issue.

The new guidelines mainly impact Catholic elementary schools, as nonpublic high schools in the state generally fall under the purview of the Board of Regents.

Jewish schools, which have a significant presence in New York City, could feel strong effects from the new guidelines as well.

New York City is home to 1.1 million Jews, around 32% percent of whom identify as Orthodox, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Strongly Orthodox Jewish private schools, known as yeshivot, educate an estimated 57,000 students in New York City alone, The New York Times reports. A group of graduates say that it has been “commonplace for decades” that students who graduate from yeshivot receive little instruction beyond studying Jewish texts, and “can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.”

The administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio opened an investigation into the lack of secular education at yeshivot in 2015. Prominent rabbis and other Jewish leaders have resisted critics of yeshivot, citing religious freedom concerns.

The US archdiocese with a relic of the original Guadalupe image

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 12, 2018 / 12:14 pm (ACI Prensa).- Millions of pilgrims travel each year to see the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. In one U.S. diocese, however, pilgrims can see a relic of the original image that has been outside Mexico for nearly 80 years.

The relic, a small half-inch cutting taken from the tilma, is kept in a chapel in the Los Angeles cathedral which was dedicated by Archbishop José Gomez in 2012. The fragment of the tilma is preserved in a gold reliquary embedded into the midsection of a sculpture of Saint Juan Diego, giving the effect of the tilma the saint wore.

The relic was given in 1941 by then-Archbishop of Mexico, Luis María Martínez y Rodríguez, to his counterpart in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, John Joseph Cantwell, after he led a large pilgrimage to the Guadalupe Basilica in the Mexican capital.

Archbishop Cantwell provided significant help to Mexican Catholics during the Cristero War and the religious persecution by the Mexican government during the first decades of 20th century. The priest welcomed to his archdiocese priests fleeing from Mexico to survive.

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego in 1531, and requested that he ask the first bishop of Mexico, Franciscan Friar Juan de Zumárraga, to have him build a church at the foot of Tepeyec Hill.

As proof of the authenticity of the apparition, the Virgin Mary asked the saint to bring flowers from a rosebush that miraculously appeared on arid Tepeyec Hill as a sign to the bishop.  When he presented the flowers to the bishop, his tilma, the garment in which he was carrying them, was imprinted with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The image of the Virgin, full of symbolism which could be read by the indigenous Mexicans, gave rise to the evangelization of Mexico, leading to millions of conversions in the following years.

Saint Juan Diego was canonized in July 2002 by Saint John Paul II.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

After abortion litmus test controversy, Canada job grant program makes some changes

Toronto, Canada, Dec 12, 2018 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic organizations and others welcomed the Canadian government’s changes to rules for job grants that had required them to affirm abortion rights and other political causes - but they are still concerned that the rules could block some pro-life groups from participating.

“I think they recognized there was a problem there and they needed to change the language. We are pleased that they did,” Neil McCarthy, director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Toronto, told CNA. “We had 5,000 letters from people within the Archdiocese of Toronto, lots of conversations, and a coalition of many different faith communities that were concerned with this.”

The Canada Summer Job Grants program has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs for secondary school or college students, granting small businesses, non-profit organizations, and religious employers the money to fill positions such as camp counselors or landscapers.

Federal funding requirements for the program were added Dec. 19, 2017 stipulating that “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada,” including “reproductive rights,” or the right to abortion access.

Organizations had to check a box attesting to their alignment with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, case law, and other government commitments, such as “the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

Many groups denied funding in 2018 had to rely on fundraising campaigns and programming changes, or they eliminated student jobs entirely.

The rules drew objections and legal challenges that cited prospective grantees’ right to advocate against abortion, as well as principles protecting religious freedom and free speech.

The rules for 2019 remove a lengthy attestation added last year, but now require applicants to attest that the grants “will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” Projects and activities ineligible for funding include those that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services,” Canadian Catholic News reports.

McCarthy anticipated most groups in the Archdiocese of Toronto will be able to move ahead with job grant applications. About 90 percent of these groups were summer camps run through parishes.

“At least, at bare minimum, there are charities and organizations that are going to be able to apply for the funds,” McCarthy said. “That’s important because there were groups like Archdiocese of Toronto charities and parishes last year where we advised to apply with an amended attestation. Those applications were rejected at one point.”

A record number of application shad been rejected in 2018.

McCarthy said Canadians can still disagree with the affected groups “and still recognize that we are not denying someone’s rights or undermining their rights or restricting their rights.”

“We may disagree on particular issues. That’s what a democratic society should be about. It doesn’t mean that we’re marginalized or cast aside because of those views,” he said.

Ray Pennings, co-founder and executive vice president of the think tank Cardus, thought the changes meant the government had realized that the rules violated fundamental rights of freedom of religion, conscience and speech, Canadian Catholic News reports. He said the rules had caused “real harm” to about 1,500 organizations and many more young people.

“There is still the potential for problems, however, with the new eligibility criteria,” Pennings continued. “They apply an internal values test on applicants using opaque wording subject to interpretation by the government of the day behind closed doors.”

After the 2018 rules were first announced, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explicitly rejected participation by pro-life groups. He said Jan. 10, “An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion and the rights of women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly, where we are as a society.”

Many observers are still waiting to comment until the full official application and other documents are released, expected next week.

The Catholic Civil Rights League said the new application process is still “sadly deficient” and will continue to suppress “viewpoints not shared by the government” by denying funding to groups that disagree. Organizations can still be denied funding if they take pro-life positions.

It accused the ruling Liberal Party of “effectively establishing a ‘bubble zone’ to prevent funding to organizations who do not share its unfettered pro-abortion position,” the group charged. The group has characterized the new rules as “a means of compelling ideological conformity from law abiding charities.”

For instance, in the hypothetical case of an organization raising awareness about the effects of abortion on women, the Catholic Civil Rights League argued, it “will likely be denied funding, even though it is engaged in assisting women’s reproductive health, because it treads into a challenge to the unfettered abortion license, at any and all stages of a pregnancy, promoted by this government.”

The group said that peaceful protest and assembly are legally protected rights and the government is wrong to claim there is a “right to safe and legal abortion” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or in case law.

Small businesses and groups like Toronto Right to Life have filed lawsuits challenging the 2018 rules.

Carol Crosson, who represents Toronto Right to Life, characterized the changes as “a victory for all those who stood against the government’s unconstitutional incursion into the beliefs and opinions of Canadians.”

“When the freedom of speech of one Canadian is infringed, all Canadians lose. Government has no place punishing Canadians for their viewpoints,” Crosson said.

McCarthy said that, while groups that everyone with reservations or concerns about the new requirements should be applying for the grants.

When someone is accepted or rejected, they may ask for more information or clarity about the criteria.

“The government has in the past produced resources that have provided clarity regarding how particular requirements may be interpreted,” he said. “We may see that again.

Canadians should also ensure they are in contact with their local politicians to ensure they are aware of the situation and closely monitoring it, McCarthy said.

 

Reports of Pell guilty verdict emerge, despite gag order

Sydney, Australia, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell has been convicted by an Australian court on charges of sexual abuse of minors, according to media reports and CNA sources close to the cardinal.

A judicial gag order has restricted Australian media coverage of the trial since June.

Despite the gag order, a story published Dec. 11 on the Daily Beast website first reported that a unanimous verdict of guilty had been returned by a jury on charges that Pell sexually abused two altar servers in the late 1990s, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The verdict reportedly followed three days of deliberations by the jury - the second to hear the case. An earlier hearing of the case is reported to have ended in early autumn with a mistrial, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

In October, two sources close to Cardinal Pell, members of neither his legal team nor the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, told CNA that the first hearing of the case had ended in a mistrial due to a jury stalemate. One source said that jury was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Pell.

In remarks to CNA Dec. 12, the same sources independently confirmed this week's report that a guilty verdict had been reached.

The conviction has not yet been confirmed by the Australian judiciary, and the gag order on Australian media could remain in place for several months.

Pell will reportedly be sentenced in early 2019. He will not be incarcerated prior to his sentencing.

Citing deference to the gag order, the Vatican has declined to comment on reports of the guilty verdict.

"The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts. We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters Dec 12.

Pell has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse of minors. In May, lawyers for the cardinal petitioned the County Court of Victoria to split the allegations into two trials, one dealing with the accusations from Melbourne, and another dealing with accusations related to his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s.

As the trial for the Melbourne allegations began in June, the judge imposed a sweeping injunction preventing media from reporting on the progress of the case. The gag order reportedly remains in force, over concerns that the verdict could influence the outcome of the second trial, which is expected to be heard early in 2019.

Pell has been on leave from his position as prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy since 2017. Pell asked Pope Francis to allow him to step back from his duties to travel home to Australia to defend himself against the charges, which he has consistently denied.

Prior to his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, Pell served as the Archbishop of Sydney.

In October, Pope Francis removed Pell, along with Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, from the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with helping the pope draft a new constitution for the Holy See’s governing structure.

In April 2018, Robert Richter, the lead attorney on Pell’s legal team, refuted the allegations made against Pell.

“The allegations are a product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country,” Richter said.

Richter further said that the accusations were “not to be believed,” and were “improbable, if not impossible.”

Until the imposition of the gag order in June, Pell had been the subject of sustained media attention in Australia, prompting the order. The extent of hostile attention directed at Pell by several Australian outlets, even prior to the accusations being made, led to a public debate in some sections of the Australian media about whether it would be possible to find an impartial jury for the cardinal.

Although the gag order was issued, one source called the integrity of the proceeding into question. In remarks to CNA, he called the trial a “farce” and a “witch hunt.” He said that Australian prosecutors were determined to secure a conviction, despite the earlier mistrial.

“They kept going until they got the jury who’d give them what they want,” the source told CNA.

Last week, another Australian court overturned the recent conviction of the former Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Wilson, on charges he failed to report complaints of sexual abuse.

Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis said Dec. 6 that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Archbishop Wilson did not report abuse committed by Fr. James Fletcher, when Fletcher was charged in 2004 with child abuse which occurred between 1989 and 1991.

The judge also noted the possibility of undue media influence on the case.

“This is not a criticism of media, but intended or not, the mere presence of large amounts of media from all around Australia and the world carries with it a certain amount of pressure on the court,” Ellis stated.

The heavy media presence “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes.”

“The potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence may be subtle or indeed subversive in the sense that it is the elephant in the room that no one sees or acknowledges or wants to see or acknowledge,” Ellis said.

He added that  Wilson could not be convicted merely because the “Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in terms of its historical self-protective approach” to clerical sex abuse. “Philip Wilson when he appears before this court is simply an individual who has the same legal rights as every other person in our community.”

“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits, or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding Philip Wilson guilty, simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest.”

If the decision is confirmed, Pell can appeal to the Supreme Court in Victoria, and from there to the Australian High Court.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.

Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a 'teacher of the Gospel' through her image

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe Wednesday, reflecting on how Mary continues to evangelize Latin America through her ubiquitous image.

As Our Lady of Guadalupe accompanied Saint Juan Diego on Tepeyac, she continues to encounter people through “an image or stamp, a candle or a medal, a rosary or a Hail Mary,” Pope Francis said in his homily Dec. 12 in St. Peter's Basilica.

Through her image, Mary “enters in a home, in a prison cell, in the ward of a hospital, in a nursing home, in a school, in a rehabilitation clinic to say: ‘Am I not here, that I am your mother?’” he continued in Spanish.

The pope’s homily centered on Mary as a “teacher of the Gospel” through her Magnificat.

“Mary teaches us that, in the art of mission and hope, so many words and programs are not necessary. Her method is very simple: she walked and sang,” Francis said.

In the school of Mary, he said, we “nourish our hearts” with the “multicultural wealth of Latin America, where we can “listen to that humble heart that beats in our villages” with “the sacredness of life.”

Here, the “sense of God and his transcendence,” as well as “respect for creation, the bonds of solidarity, and the joy of the art of living well” are preserved, he continued.

As her image traveled the continent, Our Lady of Guadalupe is “not only remembered as indigenous, Spanish, Hispanic or African-American. She is simply Latin American,” Francis said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn, appeared to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples.

Mary took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in a native language, Nahuatl.

She asked Juan Diego to appeal to the bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, stating she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her son. Initially turned away by the bishop, Diego returned to site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

She instructed him to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish bishop. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the bishop, he found that an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “mother of a fertile and generous land in which all, in one way or another, can find ourselves playing a leading role in the construction of the Holy Temple of the family of God,” Francis said.